From age two to 102, we humans are fascinated by mystery stories. It’s as if wanting to know who done it, how and why are baked into our genes.
As adults, a riveting mystery tale almost always involves the ultimate taboo, murder most foul. But for children, a mystery focused on death by misadventure is usually less interesting (and possibly more disturbing) than is one focused on everyday situations. Thus, one popular plot line involves finding why things mysteriously disappear, another focuses of foiling thieves and a third on outing tricksters who try to put one over on an unsuspecting world. Thus, in the second episode (The Kidnapping of Aunt Matilda), of my three-part story Clem the Detective Dog, Clem unmasks a nefarious scheme to defraud race fans by substituting a tired old nag for a famous race horse.
But telling a compelling kid’s mystery story is about far more than picking a good plot (plots can be borrowed after all). Far more important is to invent a detective your listeners will root for. Typically your best bet is to go with an underdog type kid who resembles your listener, or a brilliant animal. Of the two, I find a super clever detective animal to be more fun, especially for younger children. Thus kid’s love how Clem the Detective Dog, a black hound with a crooked tail, constantly shows up his boss, the bumbling stumbling private eye, Albert Muldoon.
I also like to tell stories that feature an animal detective who plies his trade to help other animals. Thus that great rodent detective, Sherlock Mouse might be approached by a worthy widow mouse and her three hungry children hoping he can foil whoever has been stealing their meager allowance of cheese. How does Sherlock foil the the cheese bandit? Ah ha, now that’s a blog for another day.